By Martha A. Simpson, D.O., M.B.A.
Assistant Professor of Family Medicine
Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine
MOST CASES OF COCCIDIOMYCOSIS ARE MILD, BUT IT CAN BE DEADLY
Question: I am looking for information on a disease called Coccidiomycosis. My childs father has this and I want to know about it. Can my son catch it from him? What is the cause? What are the symptoms? Is there a cure?
Answer: Coccidiomycosis is an infection caused by the spores of the fungus, Coccidiodes immitis. This is the second most common fungal infection encountered in the United States. It is most frequently seen in desert regions, such as the southwestern part of the United States as well as northern Mexico. It is also call San Joaquin Valley fever or Valley fever because it is widespread (endemic) to that area. The spores become airborne when the dust is disturbed, and they are then inhaled.
It is not spread from human to human or animals to humans. Therefore, you son cant catch it from his father.
About 60 percent of coccidiomycosis infections cause no symptoms. In fact, many people dont know they have even had the infection until they have a positive skin test. In these cases, doctors would refer to this as a benign, asymptomatic lung infection.
In cases where symptoms are present (symptomatic illness), however, the illness
can range from mild to severe. People who are immune-compromised, such as those
with AIDS or systemic cancer, are at greater risk for having severe, disseminated
cases of coccidiomycosis. There is a chronic form of coccidiomycosis which is
diagnosed many years after an initial infection. In many cases it may not have
been recognized, diagnosed, or treated at the time of the original infection.
A disseminated disease, where the infection has spread to the bones, liver brain,
skin and heart may occur, but is not common.
Symptoms of coccidiomycosis may be cough, fever, chills, night sweats, headache, muscle aches, joint pain and other flu-like symptoms. In more severe forms, there can also be blood-tinged sputum, loss of appetite, weight loss, painful red rash on the legs, and change in mental status. Arthritis with painful, swollen joints may also occur.
The diagnosis of coccidiomycosis is made by positive sputum cultures, chest
X-ray, and a positive blood test. This test is called a coccidiomycosis complement
The acute, symptomatic illness often resolves without treatment in two to eight weeks. Bed rest and treatment of the symptoms are usually sufficient. When there is severe infection, or disseminated infection, antifungal medication should be prescribed. Complications such as meningitis and extensive lung damage can occur. In the most severe form, there is a 50 percent mortality rate.
There is research being done on a possible vaccine for coccidiomycosis. This
would be very helpful in preventing this disease in the southwestern by of the
country, where its very widespread.
Family Medicine® is a weekly column. To submit questions, write to Martha A. Simpson, D.O., M.B.A., Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine, P.O. Box 110, Athens, Ohio 45701, or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Medical information in this column is provided as an educational service only. It does not replace the judgment of your personal physician, who should be relied on to diagnosis and recommend treatment for any medical conditions. Past columns are available online at www.familymedicinenews.org.